Toronto’s Karen Ingram is a mother of three children, ages 10, 12 and 14. Since 2012, Karen has ridden thousands of kilometres to conquer cancer in this lifetime, participating in the Ride to Conquer Cancer five times so far. This year, Karen will bring her total to over 7,000 km. Read her inspiring story here!
Karen is an avid participant in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, which benefits the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. The Ride is Canada’s largest cycling fundraiser. Since 2008, the Ride has raised over $155 million for the Princess Margaret. With events across the country, in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and BC, the Ride to Conquer Cancer series has raised over $339 million for cancer research, treatment, education and care across the country.
I spoke to Karen about her experiences and motivation for doing the Ride to Conquer Cancer.
Joe: When did you start doing the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre? And how many have you done?
Karen: My first Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre was in June 2012. I have now completed five rides and am registered to ride again in 2017 – which will be my sixth year riding.
Joe: What was your first ride like? Were you nervous? Excited? Did you finish?
Karen: My first ride was a mixture of trepidation and excitement. I was not much of a cyclist up until that point. In recent years, I had ridden sporadically on my 20+ year old mountain bike with a bike seat and bike trailer tagging along behind me, so that my three kids could come along on short errands, but I was certainly not a keen cyclist. I was nervous about taking on the challenge of riding 200+ km, but I was excited about attempting the challenge.
Upon registering for the Enbridge Ride, I decided that I was going to need to get back into shape, being less physically fit since having had my three kids, and recognizing that 200 km seemed a long time to sit on my backside and pedal a bike! I was determined to cross the finish line – and I am glad to say that I successfully completed the Ride in 2012! My first Ride to Conquer Cancer was without doubt one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. And I have developed a wonderful new hobby because of that experience!
Joe: It’s a huge achievement to ride so many thousands of kilometres. Do you have any kind of support system in friends, family and work? Or is all your support from your team, Team Get It Dunn? Would you like to tell us about it?
Karen: Well, I’m proud to say that I have ridden over 7,000 km since the spring of 2012. My five Ride to Conquer Cancer events are included in that distance – plus one Grand Fondo in Whistler. I have had excellent support from family, friends and my teammates on our team, Get it Dunn. I have also found great support through the Ride – through other riders, staff and teams at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. It is quite inspiring (and motivating) to know that there are thousands of people, most of us strangers, working together, united in the goal of conquering cancer, and all of us contributing to that achievement in our own way.
Karen: I’ve completed five rides because I have people who encourage me in a variety of ways. My kids are keen supporters. They bake and sell cookies with me; they happily donate to my fundraising from their piggy banks ($2, $5, $1.50, $10, etc.); they draw cheering signs and congratulatory signs; they understand that I need to spend time on my bike training; they exercise with me; they encourage me to continue participating each year.
Aside from the financial support which I receive from many people, I am supported by friends to ride with; people who babysit so that I can go out on training rides; riding support with training guides and sessions throughout the year through the Ride; fundraising support; countless volunteers (medical, bike techs, camp volunteers, etc.) on the weekend of the Ride; discounts at bike shops and locally organized training rides; and camaraderie on the route as we ride. Participation in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer is a group effort on every level – you don’t ever do it alone.
Joe: How have your three kids been impacted by your cycling? Do they ever join you? Do you feel you are inspiring them?
Karen: I have, three kids – two girls and one boy – ages 14, 12 and 10. My kids are BIG supporters of my participation in the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. My 12-year-old daughter is keen to participate in the Ride with me when she turns 16! I do ride with my kids – they are not yet keen to go for long rides, but they do enjoy getting out on their bikes. Once spring hits, my kids know that I need to train out on the road and understand that it consumes some of our time together – but they don’t seem to mind because it has become one of the ways that they support me. They know that the four of us are working together to conquer cancer. They know that the Ride is important to me and as a result, it has become important to them.
Do I feel I’m inspiring my kids? Yes, I do! And that is a good feeling. It’s great to know that my kids understand and are willing to be generous; that it is good to do something for others; that WE can contribute to conquering cancer even though we are not doctors, nurses or researchers.
More importantly, my kids inspire me. I shaved my head as part of my fundraising challenge two years ago and my oldest daughter, then 12, wanted to shave her head too. I was uneasy about this idea as I was worried that she might upset many people by generating concern that she was ill – so instead she decided to cut her hair short and donate it for wigs for kids living with cancer. She was quite proud when she told people that I was bald because I shaved my head to fight cancer, but I was more proud of her for cutting her hair short – when all of her peers had long hair, and at an age when looks are becoming so important to many young people – so that she could help someone that she did not know to have a wig because their hair had been lost to chemo. Both of my daughters have donated their hair for that purpose. I find them very inspiring! And that is a great feeling!
Joe: Please share with us what motivated you to start doing the Ride to Conquer Cancer.
Karen: My motivation? My Dad, my Mom and a long time friend, Marc Dunn, the name behind our team, who invited me to participate. Marc had ridden for the first time in 2011 and found it to be such a wonderful experience that he wanted to share it with others. At the time, my Dad was receiving some of his treatment for his bladder cancer down at The Princess Margaret. Many years earlier, my Mom had a long, tough fight with cancer and I felt frustrated at feeling unable to do anything to help her back then. So when the cancer treatment for my Dad was happening at the same time that my friend invited me to consider riding, I decided that participating was one way that I could feel like I was doing something to help my Dad.
Cycling was something that I had not done for many years and never for any distance like 200 km! It seemed like the right balance of challenge and plausibility. My Mom thought I was a little crazy, and my Dad said “OK Karen! See you at the finish line in Niagara!” My parents put in over half the amount to buy my road bike, and so began my journey on the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
Joe: Do you plan to keep doing these rides well into your fifties and sixties, or do you think you will have to quit one of these days? Would you recommend getting into this kind of event to people in their forties and fifties?
Karen: I absolutely hope to continue riding and time will tell if I’m physically able to do it. I had a very bad neck injury last spring which almost stopped my participation in the 2016 Ride – but I received a very cautious thumbs-up from the doctors a week before the Ride and was able to complete the 2016 event. It was ironically the most difficult Ride in the five years of my participation – my physical limitations meant I was untrained and the weather was brutal on the Saturday – excessive heat and very strong winds.
Joe: Would you recommend getting into this kind of event to people in their forties and fifties?
Karen: The beauty of the Ride to Conquer Cancer is that it is for every type of rider, from the inexperienced to the well-seasoned. You see every size and shape of rider and every type of bike along the route – and every age and fitness level too!
One year Team Get it Dunn had riders aged from 17 to 76! It was great!! And they all completed the Ride successfully. Another year, one of the Ride participants was a young woman who rode with only one leg. I think that there are few things that would be a limit to participating in the Ride if someone has the desire. The Ride is great at doing their best to support their riders in making the fundraising and physical components both realistic and achievable goals. The event provides pit stops with food and drink, mechanical support, medical support, washrooms and transportation if needed along the route. Riders have a variety of accommodation options, gear transportation, medical staff and, my personal favourites, hot showers and a cold beer waiting for me at camp when I arrive at the end of day one!
Joe: Are you able to find safe places to train in Toronto? We have heard some tragic stories in the news recently about cyclists killed by cars in Toronto. Do you feel safe cycling in Toronto?
Karen: Riding and training in Toronto … ah yes. Cycling accidents are awful. Any accident is tragic. However, training, in my opinion, in Toronto is no worse than riding anywhere really. Every cyclist must always be thinking of safety no matter where they ride or train. All roads and designated paths have potential perils, whether it be other vehicles, riders, pedestrians, animals, road hazards, etc. I believe that I have had safe riding because I am aware of the potential problems that I might encounter and I always ride being aware of them. I always ride being mindful of possible situations which I might encounter and try to have given thought to how I would react – I think trying to be prepared helps to keep me safe. Toronto has many decent places to ride. Obviously some roads are more cycling friendly than others due to traffic volume and number of lanes and designated bike lanes. Many bike shops run organized rides, which help to educate riders about good routes in and around the city. Many shops work in partnership with the Ride so that Riders can become familiar with these routes.
The Ride weekend is very well run with rider safety their biggest consideration. The route is well covered by police controlled intersections. It has volunteer supervised intersections; “safety” ambassadors riding the route; the route is well signed with directions and reminders to riders and drivers to be aware. All riders must watch a safety video reviewing good riding habits, including reminders to abide by the rules of the road, and use proper hand and verbal signals while riding.
Joe: What does your training look like? Do you train all year or just seasonally? Do you train in winter?
Karen: My training is a mixture of activities throughout the year, motivated by my desire to remain physically fit regardless of my riding. I participate in spin classes, do weight training, cardio work, etc. In the spring, I am keen to get back on the road to train outside. Time in the saddle is important for preparing for the Ride weekend. Really, the distance of the Ride to Conquer Cancer is not the biggest challenge – it’s getting your backside used to sitting on your bike for the two days of riding. The distance covered each day is really just a series of four shorter rides (about 25 km each) each day and that is not so bad really when you think about it! The Ride provides riders with a training schedule, which has been designed to take a non-rider to ride-ready in an easy six months!
Joe: Do you eat a special diet to prepare for this ride?
Karen: Nope! No alterations to my diet. Now, I don’t just eat chocolate bars and French fries all the time (tempting though that is – especially the chocolate!). I do try to have a healthy diet but if I am planning to go for a long training ride – say 80+ km – I will try to eat carbs the night before. I also certainly “carb up” on the Friday night before the Ride.
Joe: What would you say to encourage people who are thinking of doing the Ride, but are intimidated or nervous?
Karen: I generally find participants are intimidated by the fundraising challenge. Yes, $2,500 is not a small amount of money; however, the toughest “ask” is the very first request you make! I have found that people are very generous and are glad to support me on my Ride to Conquer Cancer.
I am happy to be able to push my pedals on my bike because I am not a researcher, doctor or nurse. Conquering cancer is a team effort and we all have our role in achieving our goal. I am able to ride my bike and use that skill to help raise the needed funds that the doctors, nurses, researchers and most importantly, the patients, use to try and beat this awful disease.
I think it is good for us all to do things that make us a bit nervous, sometimes. It helps us grow as individuals. I was nervous when I signed up for my first Ride to Conquer but I am ever so glad that I did. It has been one of the best experiences of my life and I have not regretted for one moment my involvement. Cancer is a disease that afflicts us all. It doesn’t care if you’re young or old, rich or poor. It steals life away from us all. And I want to stop that from happening. I look forward to the day that the words, “You have cancer” will no longer bring with them such fear and uncertainty. Come ride with us! Join me by visiting the Ride to Conquer Cancer web site.
Joe: I thank Karen Ingram for this interview opportunity. If you would like to support Karen, please see her Ride to Conquer page here. If you would like to find out more about fighting cancer by doing the Ride to Conquer Cancer, click here.
Ontario’s Ride to Conquer Cancer takes place on 10 – 11 June this year, and will be the 10th anniversary of this event!
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